Love is Loud

A friend told me last week that he suspected his Nan had lived for thirty years in a gay relationship but had never spoken of her love for her partner. She raised a family living with the woman she loved, but no one was ever quite sure of their true relationship. It just wasn’t the done thing back then. Hearing that after she lost her life partner she regularly said she “missed her friend’ broke my heart, not only because I know missing people is an emptiness that is never quelled, but because not being able to speak about the love you feel is a prison. Love is an emotion you want to share; when you feel it your heart wants to shout, and so often we reduce it to a whisper or even silence. Real love is a diamond you want to hold up after years of grasping around in rocks. It is why people post pictures of their dogs or babies or new engagement rings. Love never wants to stay quiet. Love is loud.

The other evening I went to an event at Focal Point Gallery hosted by Southend artist Scottee that for me crystallised the importance of love being free and open and unashamed. Entitled “Is Southend homophobic?”, it was a platform for people to come and express their views in a queer safe-place.

The empty floor of the gallery space had been given over to a long table lined by chairs. A further row of chairs circled the table; people were to sit on the outside row and step in to the table when they wanted to contribute. It could so easily have been an intimidating set-up for those not used to speaking to many strangers at once, but under the masterful friendliness of Scottee, it took almost no time at all until the table was filled and people were talking openly. 

I stood by the wall sandwiched between the rainbow art of current exhibition Volker Eichelmann and listened. I didn’t want to take up a chair that might have been needed by someone else. For a few brief moments I was nervous that my head-cocked curiosity on the periphery was a patronising outsider’s stance. For what was I bringing to the table? I had not suffered coming out of a closet in a town that, like most, fears alternative ways of living and loving. I had not had to feel scared to fall in love with someone from my own sex or walk down a street holding the hand of the person I loved, or experienced derision, verbal hatred or violence for the choice my heart had made; which, where love is concerned, is really no choice at all.

While the adults spoke freely, a young boy of about maybe 12 got to his feet and joined the table. All eyes fell on him as we waited for him to speak. And then, when it was his turn, he did. He spoke of having come out at school and how his friends supported his decision. He spoke as though he felt part of something, a wider community he has not had the freedom to mingle in yet being still in possession of a parent-dictated bedtime. He spoke with a nascent wisdom of how many had struggled before him, and he was respectful to those who had helped make it acceptable for him to recognise who he is, so young; for him to be openly and articulately gay in his still-small world. I had to wipe my face dry about a hundred times in ten minutes, though I had no right to the tears. I did not want to be one of those liberal observers pleased at the chance to get their cheeks wet, but I just felt so overwhelmed because there was a young man sat at a table of adults, utterly equal and at home, seeming proof that times had changed and were still changing – and that he would live his life being brave; a bravery that had been fought for and hard won by his peers at the table. Bravery is a word we seem to over-use when people have the confidence to simply be themselves, to articulate how they feel without fear of being judged. If this boy felt fear he did not show it, and there, with the whole of the rainbow around him – lesbian, gay, bi, trans, camp, queer, straight, all the different shades in between – it was bright and it was beautiful. The evening concluded with dozens of people sharing chips from the chippy brought in big squishy white bags by the gallery staff, there amongst the art, discussing how everyone could keep in touch and keep talking. I left, heart brimming as trans queer punk group T-Bitch crackled in full-force in the foyer usually accustomed to a quieter crowd. 

How many of us present our true selves to the world outside our comfort zone? It takes bravery to live our lives as we wish; it takes long enough to discover ourselves, our sense of self a journey started at birth and seldom ever completed – and then it takes a certain defiance once we’ve realised who we are to express it outwardly. Sometimes it takes people decades of private wrangling; some people never get there. We are naturally predisposed to staying in some sort of closet of society’s or our own making, and flinging open the closet doors feels like a loudness few people embrace. To live openly is a gift; at first to ourselves, and then to the world, which is always richer when the closet doors are smashed. Our selves should be like the best galleries – not locked away portraits pointing inwards for a lifelong private view, but open exhibitions of the morphing vibrant fearless expression of the infinite possibilities in being human. Who are we, really? Let us be that.

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Breast Man: Lesbian Wedding

When my friend Mandy asked me to be Breast Man at her wedding, I squealed. Then I stopped, confused. A new term. What does it mean, to be…’Breast Man’? I wouldn’t have to get them out would I? Hang on – DO I LOOK LIKE A DUDE WITH BOOBS STUCK ON?? What does it even mean to be married? I’m not sure, having got it wrong already. In and out of it within a year and wondering how it even got that far. I am no model of matrimonial sagacity, but I am pretty sure, as in all things, that Love helps.

It was one of these nice easy-going weddings where you’re not expected to spend a fortune fitting in with someone’s ‘theme’. It was to take place at Brighton Pavilion, with a low-key reception at something called The Earthship, an eco-joint deep in a nearby country park.

It has always seemed to me that the best weddings are not those which demand things of people, but which inspire them to give something more meaningful; their thought. To me, this was what being Mandy’s Breast Man was; giving thought in the best way I could – nice words. That’s all I had to offer, being so far away during her manic preparations: a speech.

Suddenly, after a year of anticipation, the wedding was upon us and I was bound for Brighton.

The Pavilion glistened in the October sun, and the famous domed turrets seemed like the conical Madonna breasts of a new bride reclining in the grass. I reflected on how amazing it was that we were even here in the first place, celebrating the marriage of two women in love. It’s such a new thing – to have the courage to be openly gay. The culture and vibrancy has been there all the time, but had to be kept secret – or certainly quiet, in corners – and here I was with a bride in a top hat being driven by two glorious homosexuals, one in a chauffeur’s uniform bibbing at traffic and waving like the queen, and one dressed as Baby Spice gone bad. The pavilion was built as a testament to love by a king for his queen, a regency palace of splendour – and here we were squealing outside it really loudly. In fishnets.

The wedding was beautiful. I’ve never seen faces so lit up by love as those of Mandy and Debbie – and naturally those ruddy lesbians made me completely ruin my sodding make-up.

I was bricking it about the speech. I would have read The Owl & The Pussycat or something if the public raping of Edward Lear hadn’t been something I had inwardly screamed at so often at other nuptials. No, I couldn’t maul someone else’s words, I’d have to bleat out my own. And once it was out of the way, and I’d got a high-five from a very straight-speaking drag-queen, I knew I’d done alright. I could relax. The job was done. I could join in the fun going on around me like a saucy carousel.

It’s quite a picture, you know – a lesbian wedding. I’m sure most of the guests this refers to wouldn’t mind me suggesting that they had ’embraced their male side’. That is, the emblematic nods to the traditional male. Short hair, suits, little or no make-up in some cases. This is vaguely misleading, as though there were no lesbians in frocks, or lesbians who didn’t (shock horror) look like lesbians. There were loads of these too, but I find the masculine ones more fascinating.

I was why-curious. Why, if they aren’t attracted to men, are there so many ladies seeking to look like them, in relationships with other ladies who look similar? Is it escape from the perceived weakness of femininity; is it an emulation of power? Is it a revolution against patriarchy by taking ‘maleness’ over and making it their own? Is this, even, just a cultural phase? If open lesbianism is, in terms of freedom, in its infancy – having spent countless centuries as clandestine encounters, love to be ashamed of, only peeking out occasionally from under the covers in permitted sapphic flourishes designed for the titillation of men – are lesbians then just…teething? Chewing on the freedom of it all like a rusk until their adult teeth have formed? Feminists don’t feel the need to wear stiff polo-necks and tut at lipstick anymore. Perhaps lesbians will soften their guard in time too, when it’s all lost that air of brave novelty.

Perhaps I am a naive ignoramus and missing something more subtle. I might have spoken to them about it in more detail had I the nous of a BBC corespondent and not been so rangooned on table wine.

But one thing was clear by the end of the day. That I know what it means to be married. It means whatever you want it to mean. That’s the freedom we have now. Love is free, free is love.